We have a great story to tell, but we can do a better job telling it.
We can make better investments in our community that will attract visitors from across the country. But for years we have promoted our community using a simple system with very little oversight or innovation.
Visitors to our city pay a hotel/motel tax. We turn most of that money over to our local Chamber of Commerce. They spend the money with almost no input from citizens or public leaders. The vast majority of their promotion is directed towards their members, even when those members are businesses far outside the city. Small, local businesses and nonprofit organizations that don’t pay the membership fee struggle to get any promotion at all. The city council has asked if there’s a better way.
Wisconsin law invites us to create a tourism commission composed of citizens appointed by public officials. This commission would receive most of the funds and direct them towards tourism promotion and development that can benefit the whole community.
Unlike the current system, this brings spending decisions out into the open and ensures public accountability for public funds. We’ve been bringing this kind of transparency to the city for years now. The city council unanimously approved public commissions to oversee our golf course, public marina and community festivals.
The president of the Chamber of Commerce claims that a tourism commission puts funding for many of our community organizations at risk. This is false.
State law requires us to allocate 70% of the tax to the commission, but the city retains the rest. The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Fairlawn Mansion, the SS Meteor, the Police and Fire Museum, and the Development Association all receive independent funding from the city which remains secure.
And a commission has the power to increase funding for these vital institutions. The Chamber president knows this. He is just trying to threaten organizations we all care about to protect his own funding.
But he shouldn’t be worried. The city has a long partnership with the Chamber and nobody really wants to see that end. We just need to bring more players to the table.
A tourism commission is carefully regulated and operates with full transparency, but it’s also far more flexible than our current system. Rather than do the same thing year over year regardless of the results, the commission can adapt as our community grows and changes.
Its members can not only hire the very best marketing firms, but they can also work with local business and tourism organizations, including the Chamber, to attract visitors. They can support our best attractions, like our museums and local festivals, and they can distribute local grants.
They can invest in the kind of improvements that actually bring people to our city and make it a better place for all of us to live.
Visitors to Superior come in many forms. In addition to tourists we welcome business travelers; construction workers; our family members and friends; guests at weddings and reunions; and our neighbors from surrounding communities. The taxes they pay amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. I want to use that money to make sure that every time someone comes back to Superior, they find it a better place. And I want you to be proud to invite people here.
Jim Paine is the mayor of Superior.